Thursday, December 31, 2015

Decadent Underachievers

By now everyone knows that Asian students in American schools are outperforming their non-Asian counterparts academically. The same holds true for Asians students in Asia. They have become world beaters. Our students have become also-rans.

Now, Betsy McCaughey suggests, you would think that non-Asian American parents would want to emulate the example of their Asian competitors. If the Tiger Mom was so successful and if her counterparts in other countries are so successful, shouldn’t American parents try to do as she did?

McCaughey does not mention the Tiger Mom but she does explain that a goodly part of the success of Asian children comes from their disciplinarian parents and their work-based culture.

As it happens, that is not the American way. The American way is to try to bring the Asian students down, to malign them and to suggest that all the hard work will make them neurotic and suicidal. Obviously, deep-think magazine articles about the neuroticism and depression of Asian children are psy-ops. They might examine a high school in Stanford, CA and discover a high level of suicides, fact that may or may not have something to do with having Tiger Moms. Then again, it may or may not have something to do with living in an America that demeans children who work all the time and who do not excel at play dates and sleepovers.

If the calumny is valid, we would also be able to demonstrate that the world-beating students in Asia are similarly afflicted. And we would also want to show how badly these countries are doing in economic competition with the rest of the world.

The studies are a psychic balm for American parents. They are saying that American parents should not worry when their children fall behind academically and cannot get jobs in Silicon Valley. They can console themselves with the notion that their children have higher self-esteem and fewer suicide attempts. One does not know off-hand how many American children are taking psychotropic medication, to say nothing of alcohol and weed, but still, making American children as the gold standard of mental health seems a bit risky. Someone might counter that we are raising a generation of decadent underachievers. Or, one might say, yet another generation of decadent underachievers.

We do know that Asian students tend not to want to be part of the ambient American culture. They tend to hang out with each other and to avoid the Dionysian aspects of high school and college life. Apparently, the best defense against American decadence is to opt out and spend Saturday night in the library.

In the meantime colleges are imposing quotas in order to limit the number of Asian students. And just in case these alarmist stories have not convinced Tiger Moms to dumb their children down, now a high school in New Jersey has found a new way to do the job.

McCaughey outlines the problem:

American teens rank a dismal 28th in math and science knowledge, compared with teens in other countries — even poor countries. Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are at the top.

We’ve slumped. For the first time in 25 years, US scores on the main test for elementary and middle school education fell. And SAT scores for college-bound students dropped significantly.

Could changes in these tests be to blame? That convenient excuse was torpedoed by the stellar performances of Asian-American students. Even though many come from poor or immigrant families, they outscore all other students by large margins on both tests, and their lead keeps widening.

Here in New York City, Asian-Americans make up 13 percent of students, yet they win more than half of the coveted places each year at the city’s selective public high schools, such as Bronx Science and Stuyvesant.

By any standard, the record is not very good.

The same disparity pertains in a New Jersey high school:

That formula is under fire at the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey. The district, which is 65 percent Asian, routinely produces seniors with perfect SAT scores, admissions to MIT and top prizes in international science competitions.

Evidently, American parents are upset. They have complained to school officials. Since, much of what they learned in college was how to complain and criticize, they are putting their education to good use. Since they never learned  hard work they cannot impart that value to their children.

Anyway, American parents believe that their darlings are under too much pressure and cannot compete. The solution: to dumb down the curriculum. Yes, indeed, that will do it.

McCaughey reports the sad news:

But many non-Asian parents are up in arms, complaining there’s too much pressure and their kids can’t compete. In response, this fall Superintendent David Aderhold apologized that school had become a “perpetual achievement machine.” Heaven forbid!

Aderhold canceled accelerated and enriched math courses for fourth and fifth grades, which were 90 percent Asian, and eliminated midterms and finals in high school.

Using a word that already strikes terror in the hearts of Asian parents, he said schools had to take a “holistic” approach. That’s the same euphemism Harvard uses to limit the number of Asians accepted and favor non-Asians.

Aderhold even lowered standards for playing in school music programs. Students have a “right to squeak,” he insisted. Never mind whether they practice.

“Holistic” means that we are not going to accept your high achieving child because we are afraid that he will not excel at Spring Break. And because we need to save places to achieve diversity quotas.

One notes with even more chagrin that the school no longer considers it important to play music correctly. This ought to recall the cries of anguish when American parents discovered that the Tiger Mom once forced her young daughter to sit at the piano playing the same piece of music until she got it right. The poor girl was not even allowed a bathroom break.

In effect, The Tiger Mom was teaching her daughter the virtue of perseverance.

How did that one work out?

 Well, here is the Tiger Cub today. This is Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld’s bio:

Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld '15 graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Harvard University with an AB in Philosophy and South Asian Studies. While at Harvard, Sophia was a recipient of the Safra Undergraduate Fellowship in Ethics. She was also named (for better or worse) one of "Harvard's 15 Most Interesting Seniors." Sophia is currently pursuing her JD at Yale Law School.

One can also add that she completed the Harvard ROTC program and has set up a tutoring business, called Tiger Cub Tutoring, from which this bio is drawn. Check out the site.

As you can see, America needs to stop Asian children before they become like the Tiger Cubs. 


sestamibi said...

If I was lucky enough to get into Harvard, I think I would not have wasted the opportunity by majoring in philosophy. Perhaps the prestige of the school and her family's connections might offset the uselessness of her degree and help her land a good job (or grad/professional school admission).

I think hard work and delaying gratification are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for success and life. I went to Bronx Science. I struggled all the way through, but still managed to graduate in the top third of my class. Ditto for college and even grad school. Now retired, I managed to have a professional career, but never got beyond the lowest rungs of the ladder in my field.

If I had to do it again, I never would have gone to college at all. I come from a blue collar background, and perhaps it was too presumptuous of me to think I could do any better. I could have made as much as a plumber or HVAC tech without wasting the time and money I did.

I admire Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld's accomplishments, but at what price? There's a time for working hard, and too many young people are slacking off today. Best to find the right balance and not fritter away one's youth confined to a library. Good parents will help their kids find that balance.

Sam L. said...

I do wonder what Asian Studies are. Sounds equivalent to Black Studies and Gender Studies.

Leo G said...

Uh Sestamibi, a philosophy degree can lead to more fields then anything outside of STEM. Business, law, teaching, etc. Philosophy, is a discipline, that helps people to think logically and in organized ways. Not the haphazard touchy-feely way of thinking that seems to dominate our school system in these times.

NB - my son graduated with his BS in advanced philosophy

Ares Olympus said...

Topics like this make me reflect on motivatations for success. Why do people do things? Why do some parents push their children in predetermined strategic directions, and others just encourage their children to try many things, while accepting that muddling around is a necessary step to finding what they're really good at?

Its curious that "tiger mom" has become the stereotypical asian family motivator. I wonder what variations exist?

At my local church I befriended to one of the interns whose parents are from Southeast Asia, and learned about his life and family. He was 28 and said when he was younger he was very status oriented, and thought he had to have a fancy car to get a girlfriend, and got his 4-year undergrad degree after $60k in debt, but he also had his $35k sports car as well, but never got the dream girlfriend and regrets his choices.

He also talked about his parents and brother. His parents immigrated here before he was born and followed the traditional ethnic food restaurant business. And he was worried about them because they put all their money into the business and have over a half million dollars of debt while approaching retirement. And he talked about his brother needing money for some reason, and his parents couldn't help, and then expected him, with less than $10k annual stipend and his own student debt and interest payments, to loan money to his brother and he had to say no.

Anyway, so I can see the primary motive behind "Tigermoms" seems like fear, and belief that working hard will get her children ahead so someday they won't have to be afraid of failure, and I wonder how well that works.

So if I compare to this Asian family, and their choices that lead everyone into large amounts of debt to get ahead, and it would look to me that the assumption of working hard to get ahead fails if you have to get into huge amounts of debt to make it, and worse when you "compensate" for fears of inferiority, like buying expensive sports cars. It does seem like Asian men have more dating troubles than Asian women.

On the surface, they'd look very successful, but behind the wall are vulnerable parents who can never afford to retire, and who will expect their two son to help them someday, with no other extended family around.

I don't know if they are representative of an immigrant family, but maybe more it shows me the failure of the American Dream, if you aspire to greatness, you'll sign your name to whatever debt is required to get ahead, while if this family had stayed in their homeland, they would have a larger extended family base to depend upon, and wouldn't need large amounts of debt to strangers in a strange land.

My own ancestors came here from Norway in the 1850s and a large set of families all traveled together and stettled in farms in the same area, and most still live close by, even if more in the large cities. Leaning on family is a tricky place, but I know if I was in trouble, many people would be there to help, if I asked for it. It also reminds me I need to be responsible even if I'm an underachiever in some ways like being childless, but I have something to give if others get into trouble.

KCFleming said...

"Harrison Bergeron" was prescient.

sestamibi said...

Uh, Leo G., if you were an employer hiring someone in "business, law, teaching, etc." would your first choice be a philosopher or someone who actually trained in one of the fields you cited?

I have known people with philosophy degrees who have had other careers, but not without a lot of additional post-graduate training.

Anonymous said...


South Asian Studies means she took classes in Hindi and some regional history/politics courses, as a minor. Not useless, especially considering India's rising role. Need more Americans with foreign language skills.

The gal did ROTC so she'll have her commission in the US Army, and she's going to take a JD at Yale Law. That's probably sufficient practical preparation for working life.

Why philosophy? She's the daughter of two law profs. It probably came with her mother's milk.

Charles Perigord said...

It's fascinating to see how quickly liberals can resort to "institutionalized racism" when the future of their own kids is at stake. There are plenty of hungry lawyers who would be eager to file racial discrimination lawsuits over this.

The Asians and Asian-Americans will probably deal with this by hiring people who understand what "holistic" means, to teach private classes in which the students learn what to say and do to pass for "holistic" without being white. And they will do whatever it takes to present as "holistic" students on their college applications.

The racially discriminatory school administrators may have bought themselves 5 to 7 years before their victims have caught on to the new game and maximized their performance under the new criteria. The administrators cannot escape the fact that they must provide a coherent explanation of what "holistic" means, so that kids of all races can go out and learn how to be "holistic". If they can't provide a coherent explanation, the judges will smash them flat and the school districts will probably have to pay the attorney's fees for the students' attorneys.